Letters to a Concerned Free-Thinker, Letter #9: Drunk with Happiness:
It is now time to discuss matters to do with morality, Alison has told me much of her past history to with religion and her path to enlightenment, I thought it might help you understand the importance of forming one’s morality based upon empathy and reason; and not on the basis of some divine warrant or relative cultural clash.
Left on the porch to an old abandoned chapel, which lay not too far a distance away from the local town church, whose size was double that of the chapel’s; Alison, deep in thought, begins her postulating. She is concerned with the state of the old building, though this may seem strange given that she spent most of her life running from an establishment of this sort, so why would now she wish to lay concern on it? She reasons to herself that the old building, though it may represent that which she detests, she still wishes that it would be ordained with some vestige of life. The church seemed to garter much more life then the chapel, and the precarious thing about it was the church was much younger then the chapel. Yet, how is it that the church is much livelier than that of the chapel? The reason for it (she thought) must come from the fact that the church is much more modern then the chapel. The church’s architecture is post-modern (ironically enough), with the roof bending in the shape of a dome, with the walls being made from a combination of glass, marble and steel. The doors are made entirely of glass; the roof has a huge sphere with a steel cross imbedded on it. The rest of the building is made up of abstract shapes, such as squares forming into ovals and so on; it does not represent anything on the lines of traditional church architecture and instead resembles the embrace of the modern era. Compared to the chapel, which architecture is pre-modern, classic architecture, rigid and so on; the chapel is made from wood, and resembles closely to that of missionary chapels that you would expect to fine in the Bible belt of the USA. The chapel is pathetic in comparison to the church, yet has the odd sent of death around it. The graveyard at the back of the chapel tells a story that dates back to the late 18th century. How could a building like this be abandoned? Then another thought crosses her mind, one that had not yet crossed it before. What if the reason for this abandonment is the realization, that the traditional simply was not needed anymore? Yes, there are a good deal of people coming into the church, but look at its structure, look at its tenants, do they resemble exactly that of old traditional teaching, or has cultural relativism shown itself?
Her story will be revisited later, as it is quite an interesting thing to discuss, but for now we need to embark on a different path; one of morality and nihilism.
Here we are, from the moment of our conception to the moment of our last goodbyes; we are here. Well we are here; we make the most of it with others, which is the reality. We create systems by which we can co-exist and thrive, that take the rights of the many, as well as the rights of the few. These systems allow us to function together, that allow people the ability to take charge of their own lives and not harper on the whims of others who have equal responsibility. We develop systems that have principles that discern right and wrong actions, good and bad deeds; we call these systems, systems of “Morality.” Within these systems there are principles that discern between harmful and helpful behaviour amongst others, these principles are what we call “ethics”, and they are the philosophy of morality. These systems of morality may derive from ethical codes, laws, books and so on. Others may seek to derive their morality from the world around them; others may seek a universal morality that applies objectively to the world. What is deemed moral has been a major debate amongst philosophers, ever since its amalgamation in the infancy of our species. That is why we discuss it here, in this letter, as one needs to grow in understanding of such concepts and understanding of the roles these concepts play on society and on the individual. So when discussing morality and ethics we must ask the following three questions.
1. “What ethical principles do we use to discern between right and wrong behaviour?”
2. “What system of morality is ideal in discerning moral from immoral?”
3. “By what authority or reasoning is that system of Morality ideal?”
Another method of framing these three questions is done so like this…
“What ethical principles do we use to discern between right and wrong behaviour, and what system of morality is right in terms of discerning between what is moral from what is immoral and finally how do we know that, that system of morality is correct?”
Since we have given a framework by which to begin our topic of morality, we shall discuss each question and the relative views and discernments between them. Though it must be noted, that to consider anything to be “moral” (at least in my view), it must go to the benefit of the well-being of conscious creatures; physically, mentally or socially. What we consider to be “immoral” goes towards the denigration of the well-being of conscious creatures, either physically, mentally or socially (overall social standard of the group, which is).
The first question has to do with normative ethics, which is the branch of ethics concerned with ethical action, and how one should act and behave. The major branches associated with normative ethics are; deontology, consequentialism, pragmatic ethics and virtue ethics.
-Deontology; is the branch of normative ethics concerned with the motives behind actions, rather than the outcomes of those actions. Deontologists’ reason, that you need laws and rules in society in order for it to function effectively, and thus it is one’s obligation to follow those rules as it is their duty. Deontologists say there is a “Moral law” that is absolutely right and it is this law that must be upheld and respected regardless of personal prohibitions otherwise. Immanuel Kant (German philosopher from the 18th century), came up with the “categorical imperative” where by which one acts on the will of maxims (actions, laws or memorable guidelines for living eg. “Do not eat spaghetti with bird droppings for it will cause dysentery in the bowels.”) that can be willed to become universal laws. And the individual should live by their maxims in a“universal kingdom of ends” (Kantianism).
–Moral absolutism; is another form of deontology, which seeks to discern absolute rights from wrongs. Moral absolutists take ideal ethical behaviour from often holy texts that have laws that are believed to be from an ultimate authority. Divine command theory goes hand in hand with moral absolutism, as the “supernatural” agent, behind the formation of these texts is believed to have ultimate authority, and thus all actions and anything that is deemed ethical must be accordance with a God of some sort. Thus, if the moral law says “do not kill” then it must be upheld despite the circumstance. This plays as well, that morality and ethics are entirely up to the deity and that humans have no say in what is ethical an action and what is not, as the supreme entity is the ultimate scalar for deciding actions that are right or wrong.
-Consequentialism is the opposite of deontology, and judges’ ethical behaviour by the consequences of one’s conduct, and identifies that the consequences permitted by an action are what matters most. Consequentialism in normative ethics, can be divided into many sub-theories; State consequentialism, utilitarianism, ethical egoism, altruism and so on. We shall discuss one of these and that is utilitarianism.
–Utilitarianism simply put, is; for any action to be deemed proper it must go towards the maximization of utility (benefit) and the reduction of suffering (negativity). What is interesting about utilitarianism is its practicality with the social structures, if we take a look at two-level utilitarianism, which synthesis act utilitarianism (a moral action is decided upon, based on its relative delivery of happiness it delivers to a subject at a given time; happiness being defined as pleasure and absence of pain. The consequences of an action are judged alone.) With rule utilitarianism (an action is deemed right by the most effective rule that it follows that delivers optimum goodness; goodness being defined as optimum positivity towards human life. Rules are judged rather than individual actions.) to create a theory by which instead of purely going on the basis of pleasure to measure ethical actions (hedonist utilitarianism); ethical actions are instead based upon on ‘intuitive’ moral rules (which employ, empathy and so on), except in the instance where critical reasoning is involved by which the individual then must use his deduction and reasoning to engage in a ‘critical level’ of moral reasoning. Now the reason why this is an effective way of distinguishing ethical behaviour, is it takes in the wider realm of society and co-opts the most effective way of living, which is in accordance to reality. A small note, on the difference between hedonism and two-sided utilitarianism, hedonism seeks for pleasure’s sake; well the other seeks for aesthetic and progressive features, as well as pleasure.
-Pragmatic ethics; embodies the already mentioned ways of discerning ethical behaviour, and applies it on a practical level; taking various elements of deontology and consequentialism and applying it in a pragmatist sense (practising various other forms of normative ethics with full knowledge that social order needs to progress and innovate). What must be noted is that ethical pragmatists are not moral relativists (who believe morality is relative and thus subjective); they will revise their position, just like scientists may revise their theories, to achieve an objective understanding; pragmatists revise their ethical standards to achieve an objective higher goal.
-Virtue ethics; is the classical sense of discerning ethical behaviour, it combines deontology and consequentialism in order to live a “virtuous life” or the “Ideal character” (“dikaiosune”, in greek).
The second question has to do with the discernment of moral from immoral; in doing so we need to consider the various views on this discernment, by various different cultures, individuals and we should discern what should be the ideal morality based on its weighing on reality. Comparing and contrasting various systems of morality should help us to do so; in regards to this, we shall have to thus discuss; moral relativism, realism, universalism and absolutism.
-Moral relativism is the moral system that expresses that every culture has a different standard of morality; and thus it would be wrong to assume that an objective moral standard existed as every historical and contextual setting is different from another. And thus good or bad are entirely subjective to the case and culture in question, and thus it is our job to treat each cultures morality equal without giving bias to one another. The problem with moral relativism is it seeks no objective standard of morality, and thus if for example one society favoured child molestation and another culture detested child molestation; then according to moral relativism each side is equal in opinion and waiting. Thus contradiction appears in this moral framework, as there is no weighting on reality or objective standards of morals and thus every action is relative. This is different to situational ethics, as situational ethics seeks to provide an objective standard, whereas moral relativism does not seek to do so and only settle on subjective standards.
-Moral realism takes a different tact from moral relativism, as it is interested in objectivity of morality, rather than subjectivity. Moral realism proposes that ethical statements/sentences have propositions that can be analysed to be right or wrong from the basis of objective features in the real world, and thus are indifferent to subjective opinion. Moral realism, takes elements of utilitarianism, cognitivism (Meta-ethical standard which states statements express propositions and those can be expressed as being true or false) and realism (what is in the world and what nature is made up of material and physical substance); and creates a system of morality, moral actions are those that employ utilitarianism and realism, and immoral actions are those that deplore utilitarianism and realism. Moral universalism is similar to moral realism, as it seeks to provide an objective morality that can be attributed universally to all cultures and civilizations. It uses the same formula (Utilitarianism, cognitivism and realism) but adds universal perspectivism which takes the tact that ethical statements have imperatives that are universal, so if one commits moral judgement he is subject to that same moral judgement despite the action (however this is not to be confused, dear thinker, with absolutism; this applies in certain areas more so then others).
-Moral absolutism is different to moral objectivism; moral absolutism states that its principals are not to be violated despite any sense by which it would otherwise detest to do so, the principals are absolute and unalterable and cannot be revised. Objectivism seeks to have an ideal sense of moral actions being permissible or impermissible, and will adjust to optimise the given standards. Moral absolutism is often associated with a religious framework that employs (Kantianism, and divine command theory) a celestial being who has revealed himself in a form of some sort, whether it be through others; who then dictate God’s will. Anything that is against God’s will is considered to be immoral, and everything that contributes to God’s will is moral; and thus this sense only puts God as the ultimate source of morality. This moral system can be quite extreme, for if we are to take the bible or Quran; who both do not deplore slavery or child rape, then what are we to make of those actions? If they are not immoral, then they are moral, and thus if God commanded the subjects to do something that may go against their emotions then they have no choice but to do so, if they are to be “moral” in God’s eyes. This system of morality is simply in-consistent with what the world actually is and how societies function and thus this system is wrong by those standards.
The third and final question now comes to the discernment of these systems and identifying the morality that is most ideal, and by what reasoning it becomes ideal. Now for a system of morality to be correct it must way into the real world, which is the fact. It must be objective to our understanding of the world, we have created morality and it applies to us and our functioning within this existence. So that immediately gets rid of moral absolutism and moral relativism, as through science which asses the natural world we can quantify actions and their effects. The science of morality is an interesting look into how science can discern between moral and immoral actions based upon elements of utilitarianism, realism, neuro-science and psychology and correlation of cases. Dear thinker you must understand that views and actions come from neurological sequences in the brain. Thus for anything to be deemed “moral” it must go towards the “Flourishing of conscientious creatures” (Sam Harris, Moral landscape). We can plot various ethical systems across an average gradient and we can identify “moral peaks” (this comes from Moral landscape) on a “moral landscape” and we can identify societies throughout histories that had optimum levels of morality, and they would thus be on a higher peak then those who had poorer ones. In discussing morality my dear thinker, remember to ask the three questions listed above, this will give you a good method by which to build knowledge on the subject. As morality for any sensible person, should be instinct, empathy, altruism and reason alone are enough to distinguish right from wrong; yet there will always be those who will deny the reality, and that is what you need to watch out for.
On the voyage through life, one has to settle on a moral system; that is why it has been mentioned in this letter. If one understands what morality and what ethics are, there use in society and in one’s life; then they can effectively create a moral system that is consistent, objective and true with reality. Yet, people have a growing disproportion between what they want to value (need), and how the world operates. A German philosopher witnessed this growing process in western culture and called it “nihilism” (nothingness), this philosopher’s name was Friedrich Nietzsche; for most of his life he opposed the thought of nihilism. Yet, to understand how this opposition came about we must look at the life of this philosopher, as we have done with that of Socrates; so I give you the second great philosopher to appear in our discussions, “Friedrich Nietzsche”.
Friedrich Nietzsche was born in the year 1844 in the small town of Rocken in Germany, to a religious family; his father was a famous Lutheran pastor and would preach daily to congregations in the church that Nietzsche grew up in. He had a younger brother and an older sister, who he is known to have loved and cherished. His father suffered from a mental ailment and as a result would abuse Nietzsche, at the age of four his Father died and with it Nietzsche’s belief in God; “God is dead” (“The gay science”; “The Parable of a madman.”). A year later his brother (which he was very fond of and loved dearly) died; Nietzsche’s life can be seen as a series of hardships and broken moments from then on. He attended school in Naumberg and is still one of the youngest people to become a professor (age 24), his chosen field was that of philology (science of language), but he longed to be a proper philosopher; taking inspiration from Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Yet, his hardships would only truly begin during his time at school. Nietzsche, throughout his writings, describes each hardship he was given as an obstacle to be overcome; expressing this in the line from ‘Human, all too human” (1878), “triumph of the will”; being his motto towards suffering. At the age of 26, well fighting in the Franco-Prussian war, Friedrich attended a brothel in Genoa (Italy), where he developed syphilis, which would impede him through his entire life. At the age of 35, sick from all the abuse and his growing decline in health, he left Basel, and took up a journey of self-discovery. Nietzsche ventured to Switzerland, in Sils-maria where he would remain for the rest of his life (except of course the occasional venturing out to traverse the Italian country). A philosopher to Nietzsche did not only mean tackling that of the mind, but that of the essence of human being. Nietzsche embraced a philosophy during his time in Sils-maria, any worthwhile achievement comes out of struggle and suffering; Nietzsche revolutionised a philosophy of hardship. Rising ever morning to write till noon, then traversing the nearby mountain. This ideal environment for Nietzsche gave him the means at which to write some of his best works (“Ecce homo”, “Beyond Good and Evil” and so on); “That which does not kill me, surely make me stronger”; was a line he embellished. Nietzsche developed his philosophy from observation; observing western Christianity, which offered (according to Nietzsche) ‘a weak man’s philosophy’, that played down suffering and embellished “Good according to God”.
Nietzsche observed that in western culture the ill proportion of values over-shining what is true, was remarkably high. “Nihilism”, was the word he used to describe this phenomena; he described people who embraced this phenomena as “drowning in self-pity” (“Human, all too Human”). Nietzsche held to the ideal of resisting nihilism and to do such a thing first one needs to embrace suffering and cultivate it, finding meaning in the suffering in order to survive; this is to say, that for one to find ideal meaning he needs to cultivate the pain he is suffering and find, that within the reality of the world there are things that will enhance pain and suffering, for one to survive this reality they need to embrace it and not be drunk with happiness, as in a nihilistic framework; brushing off suffering in the hopes it will go away. For if one continues to brush away a mound of rocks; it is inevitable for him to one day not be able to brush away those rocks, instead having created a heap that is now impossible to sweep away. For us to understand that we will have pain, we will have hardships, but it is not in the hopes of drinking away our problems, we need to face them and conquer them seeing meaning in the suffering; instead of deluding ourselves in too much of value and little of reality for that is when we embrace nihilism, to conquer this phenomena we need to embrace it and face it full on, living a life in reality for that is the only way we are to survive. As opposed to the dulling of pain, which was what Nietzsche believed Christianity was doing “Dulling the pain, like a drunken man dulls his sorrows by drinking.” Nietzsche believed with the death of Christianity, nihilism would be widely embraced (The parable of a madman, is a brilliant poem by the philosopher describing the death of Christianity and loose timid naivety of morality).
Nietzsche sought to say that pain and suffering are what make life worth living, they are with which we find meaning; by adopting a philosophy that seeks to reduce pain and suffering in embrace of a lifestyle of total need or value, rather than reality. We seek to embrace nihilism, he who embraces the simple life of valuing above his self, is embracing nihilism the most dangerous poison to develop out of the death of Christianity. And the only cure for this poison is to embrace every hardship one is given, cultivate it and seek to utilise it to its maximum potential and “Triumph over it, and become the superman”. There is a famous tale, in 1889 Well Nietzsche was visiting Turin in Italy; he came across his usual walking path, a horse who was being flogged by its owner. The tale goes that Nietzsche pushed the flogger away and embraced the horse and collapsed well doing so. His mental breakdown would halt him in his writings for the rest of his life, up until his death in 1900; Friedrich Nietzsche lived his life with his sister and aunt. The tale of Friedrich Nietzsche is one of hardship and triumph, Nietzsche always wished his friends the worst suffering; for what he meant by that, is the best potential to harvest success and happiness. And this is what you must remember, hardship is no way should be seen as something to be deplored and drowned away, but something to be cultivated, like the roots of a plant being cultivated by the gardener.
Alison Locke, now totally dumb-founded at the reason for the chapel’s abandonment; looks toward the church; Jolly and happy people, and even more coming out. As if drunken from happiness, they exit, those in the local town who aren’t at church whisk a bottle, and drown themselves in the taste of it. As if an orchestra of madness, they stroll candidly from one side of the street to another, well on looker-look by. Those coming into the church and those going out seem to be very different individuals, She noticed as people went in their faces would lighten up; but not in the way you would expect. As if turning their crosses from upside down to right side up, it seemed that those entering were going for their weekly drinking session. The church seemed only to have new drinks as opposed to the chapel, whose stock ran out long time ago. This is the reason; not because of architecture but because of stock, people are getting drunk with happiness to drown out their own problems. Those who have had hard times, deaths and such, may eventually find themselves drinking happiness from their local church. The church, the synagogue, the mosque are just different buildings for men to get drunk with happiness and drown away their problems. As for the free-thinker, after realising this, he begins his track back home; for unlike the rest of them, she is sober. She is free. This I write to you
Knowledge is Power, Use it.